On 29 April 2021, the European Parliament confirmed the compromise on rail passenger rights, which it negotiated with the Council and the Commission at the end of the year 2020. Hence, the negotiations regarding this Regulation are complete. From the passengers´ perspective, there are only few improvements, but one significant deterioration instead.
This significant deterioration refers to the fact that up to now railway companies had to pay compensation to all passengers if delays of more than one hour occurred. Now they are faced with the exception that in case of force majeure this compensation no longer needs to be paid. Thereby, force majeure is not only specified as extreme weather conditions, major natural disasters or major public health crises, but also as delays which are caused by third parties, and which could not be avoided by railway companies. These include for example persons on the track, cable theft or on-board emergencies.
From the point of view of passengers, this new Regulation is unfortunate because it renders a ruling of the European Court of Justice meaningless, which only in 2013 confirmed that railway companies have to pay compensation, independent of the fact whether force majeure caused the delay or not. At least, failures of other railway companies or of infrastructure operators are expressively not to be regarded as force majeure.
This force majeure clause has already been enshrined in bus and coach, ship as well as airline passenger rights; however, in practice this clause causes a large number of disputes, as in particular airlines are very keen to appeal to force majeure. In doing so, the opportunity was missed to launch a uniform high level of protection for all passengers, independent of the mode of transport. Instead, it means levelling the level of protection to the bottom.
Other provisions in the revised version of the Regulation remain unchanged. This concerns, for example, the amount of compensation, which continues to be 25 % in case of a delay between one and two hours and 50 % if a delay exceeds two hours. In its original position, the European Parliament had demanded an increase of compensation of up to 100 % in case of delays exceeding two hours. However, in trilogue negotiations with the Council, this improvement was unsuccessful; the same applies to expanding the offer of through tickets, which are tickets that comprise several individual tickets. Instead of setting the obligation to railway companies to provide through tickets, the situation remains unchanged, therefore it continues to be voluntary to sell through tickets for travel chains, which also include train journeys by other companies.
Overall, ten amendments were voted during the European Parliament session on 29 April 2021, which were supported by MEPs from five groups. Unfortunately, none of these amendments received a majority, as this would have meant that in this case negotiations with the Council had to be restarted. Due to the fact that a transition period of two years has been provided for the new version of the Regulation, rail passengers are only left with the small comfort that they are in any case entitled to compensation at least until 2023; afterwards the exception of force majeure will apply.